Anchorage, Alaska, is known for its stunning views of the aurora borealis, and Sweet Chalet is known for its similarly remarkable aurora bonbons. Each bonbon is hand-painted, so no two are alike in their beauty. The appearance of the aurora bonbons is only half of their appeal; they come in unique flavors ranging from caramelized pear with saffron to raspberry rosewater.
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Dandelion Chocolate bars contain only two ingredients: cocoa beans and cane sugar. For the dark variety-favoring purist, their unadulterated bars are a direct reflection of the quality and unique characteristics of the bean. Constantly on the hunt for the best cacao crop, Masonis and Ring work directly with farmers from around the globe. Dandelion Chocolate also gets top points for presentation. Luxuriously wrapped in gold foil and handmade paper, each of their bars is signed by the chocolatier and printed with its unique origin story.
The Ghirardelli chocolate company, named after famous Italian Chocolatier Domingo Ghirardelli is an US division of Swiss confectiner Lindt and Sprungli and is perhaps one of the most coveted chocolate brands in the world. Incorporated in 1852, it is the third oldest chocolate company in the States and sports some of the largest variety of flavours and options in dedicated Ghirardelli shops. Sold in bar versions or miniature single squares, these varieties include milk chocolates, peanut butter chocolate and mint chocolate among many others.
If you want to try a wide assortment of fine European chocolates for little more than the price of a basic Russel Stover box, Merci’s assortment is a great option. This box of twenty small bars comes with six varieties – milk chocolate, coffee and cream, hazelnut almond, hazelnut cream, dark mousse, and praline cream. Each bar is individually wrapped for easy eating, making this offering from the German brand a tasty and affordable option for those just entering the world of high-end European chocolate.

Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of chocolates. There are at least 25 in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
Ginger Elizabeth Hahn has produced molded and flavored chocolates since 2007. Today, her shop specializes in bonbons in California-inspired flavors like Eureka lemon, raspberry rose geranium, brown butter, buttermilk lime, and olive oil sea salt. Macarons, chocolate bars, and ice cream are also on offer, though only the chocolates ship coast-to-coast. Orders are shipped the day after they’re received, with the exception of Thursday through Saturday orders, which ship the following Monday. 1801 L St. Suite 60, Sacramento, CA
Co-owners Corey and David Menkes spend more time sourcing their chocolate than molding it, ensuring the beans they use come from farms that practice sustainable agriculture and pay their workers fair wages. Today, their operation produces nearly 3,000 bars each month, from simple, barely sweetened single-origin varieties to subtly flavored sweets, like a bar molded with crisp amaranth. A white chocolate bar cleanly flavored with matcha promises a light caffeine buzz. 2835 South Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
"Commence your tasting with the white chocolate, macadamia nut and Cointreau Ambrosia truffle; with your second sip give our milk chocolate Wink of the Rabbit truffle a whirl. Rosé Champagnes are a tad fuller bodied than their golden counterparts and in general, tend to stand up better to darker chocolates. Cheers to an eternal life of wine + chocolate!"
The Recchiuti Confections Black Box (16 pieces) was my personal favorite in our 2014 review, and after tasting them again for this year’s update, I immediately remembered why. The assortment contains the best mixture of classic and more exotic flavors, and the bonbons aren’t too sweet. This box also has the most unique selection visually, with chocolates of varying sizes and shapes, and the sleek packaging is more eye-catching than any other box we tried.
The zChocolat collection of chocolates combine with Valencia almonds, Piedmont hazelnuts, quality French butter and cream in the ganaches are world renowned. These are not your typical box of chocolates as you can expect caramels, pralines, Chocamandine, Orangettes, Pistachio-almond marzipan sprinkled with pieces of caramelized pistachios, passion fruit caramel, Venezuelan dark chocolate ganache, Hazelnut praline infused with coffee ganache, gifts catered to Valentine's Day with heart shaped chocolate and more. zChocolat is also unique in that it's made in the purest form, low in sugar, with no preservatives, no coloring, all natural ingredients, no alcohol and 100% pure cocoa butter.
The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.

Bridgewater chocolate bars. (Big image.) Take classic chocolates, make them with good chocolate, and upgrade the design and execution a notch, and you have Bridgewater’s assorted chocolates. You can taste the quality and care that goes into these chocolates. I liked the peanut butter pieces quite a bit, as well as the Irish and almond toffees. Not all the pieces moved me, but you should try for yourself.
All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
Neuhaus uses non-GMO ingredients to make its high-end chocolates, and this 25-piece box includes some of the very best milk, dark, and white chocolates the chocolatier has to offer. The box is filled with pralinés, ganaches, caramels, and more so there's something for everyone. Best of all, you can order this box with two-day shipping if you're in a rush.
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.
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